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Science and Religion

 
burt
 
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10 March 2019 09:32
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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10 March 2019 14:54
 

Given the opening three paragraphs, I developed high hopes for the article.  Alas, they were disappointed.  I found it disjointed and trivially observational, only coming to an enduring point towards the end.

While I haven’t really worked out for myself how to differentiate the truth claims of religion from the truth claims of science, much less from those of everyday life, I am pretty sure Harris’ reduction of religious belief to propositional truth claims about the reality of the world is the optimally dumb approach to religion (the article is not so harsh, but it does express well his general error).  For, however religious belief is distinguishable from scientific belief, and otherwise from everyday truth claims, clearly it addresses the ideal possibilities of human existence, i.e. those bearing more on meaning than fact—something the piece indicates toward the end, without developing, in my opinion.  Anyway, this happens to be the topic for a book or long-form essay I’ve mulled over for some time, to wit: rehabilitating religious belief in light of its unsustainable and now counterproductive emphasis on the supernatural.  Since it obviously strikes a chord in the overwhelming majority of people, and since it obviously answers a real need in even the most intelligent and rational among us, one can ask: how is religious belief to find a place in our moral, societal, and spiritual autonomy, once we have weaned ourselves from the foolish (though psychologically intelligible) recourse to supernatural sanction and authority?  I’ve worked with the title “The Beginning of Faith,” which as a theme would prepare religious belief for its continuance, not call for its abolition; so the contrary title to Harris and his optimally dumb treatment is intentional.

In any case, self-centeredly, I suppose, I hoped Mr. Crane was going to address that question, as I think it is the one any sympathetic atheist is compelled to ask.  As someone so unconcerned with God to even declare “atheism,” it seems to follow from the New Atheists’ critique. 

[ Edited: 10 March 2019 14:57 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
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10 March 2019 16:38
 

Given the opening three paragraphs, I developed high hopes for the article.  Alas, they were disappointed.  I found it disjointed and trivially observational, only coming to an enduring point towards the end.

While I haven’t really worked out for myself how to differentiate the truth claims of religion from the truth claims of science, much less from those of everyday life, I am pretty sure Harris’ reduction of religious belief to propositional truth claims about the reality of the world is the optimally dumb approach to religion (the article is not so harsh, but it does express well his general error).  For, however religious belief is distinguishable from scientific belief, and otherwise from everyday truth claims, clearly it addresses the ideal possibilities of human existence, i.e. those bearing more on meaning than fact—something the piece indicates toward the end, without developing, in my opinion.  Anyway, this happens to be the topic for a book or long-form essay I’ve mulled over for some time, to wit: rehabilitating religious belief in light of its unsustainable and now counterproductive emphasis on the supernatural.  Since it obviously strikes a chord in the overwhelming majority of people, and since it obviously answers a real need in even the most intelligent and rational among us, one can ask: how is religious belief to find a place in our moral, societal, and spiritual autonomy, once we have weaned ourselves from the foolish (though psychologically intelligible) recourse to supernatural sanction and authority?  I’ve worked with the title “The Beginning of Faith,” which as a theme would prepare religious belief for its continuance, not call for its abolition; so the contrary title to Harris and his optimally dumb treatment is intentional.

In any case, self-centeredly, I suppose, I hoped Mr. Crane was going to address that question, as I think it is the one any sympathetic atheist is compelled to ask.  As someone so unconcerned with God to even declare “atheism,” it seems to follow from the New Atheists’ critique.

This sounds like an interesting project. I would be curious to hear more about how you might go about answering this question: “how is religious belief to find a place in our moral, societal, and spiritual autonomy, once we have weaned ourselves from the foolish (though psychologically intelligible) recourse to supernatural sanction and authority?”

I studied philosophy in school and one of my primary goals was to reconcile what I took to be a fracture in our modern society between what our intellects must affirm and our deepest religious impulses. In the Middle Ages, for example, the best science (Aristotelian science) and our deepest religious impulses were largely consonant with each other (though this required a great deal of intellectual work and synthesis to achieve).

Today it seems that what our intellects are inclined to affirm is often in conflict with the “real need” that religion fulfills and that you are pointing to in your post. I never succeeded in my task of creating a grand synthesis similar to the Thomistic synthesis of the Middle Ages (I certainly lack the abilities for that) but I reached a couple of conclusions (or it might be better to call them stumbling blocks or dilemmas).

First, while I partially agree with the author of this article that religion cannot be reduced to propositional statements - it is an existential way of being in the world, relating to the world, and (potentially) relating to something beyond the world - I do not think religion can fulfill those functions without being grounded in truth. I don’t think we can live just in meaning by saying something like “this belief gives meaning to my life without making any truth claims about the nature of reality.” I don’t think we will ever feel something is truly meaningful if we believe it is merely a projection or creation of our own imaginations. I think we need to feel it is grounded in reality, and we don’t just need to feel this, but our intellects need to assent to it. Otherwise, we will still be split, fulfilling our emotional needs by living in an imaginary world while fulfilling our intellects by denying our religious impulses.

Second, and this really turned into the stumbling block for me, I am not sure if what I will call here a purely secular “spirituality” will ever satisfy our deepest religious impulses. I am a big fan of Buddhism in some ways but certain strands of Buddhism tend to reduce Buddhism to relaxation techniques, or techniques for working with our emotions to make our life more peaceful, etc. which is all to the good, but I am not sure if this will ultimately satisfy us without some deeper ontological claim about a reality that “transcends”, in some sense, our everyday quotidian reality. We want a greater reality for lack of a better term and we want the affirmation of that greater reality to be true. I thought for a while that a secular form of Buddhism might be the answer for me but these days I am not so sure.

I was never able to reconcile these impulses. I am unsatisfied with both paths that I often see people following: either shutting their eyes to what our best science says is true or jettisoning religion and its truth claims entirely. So I would be curious to hear what direction your proposals might take.

 
 
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11 March 2019 19:13
 
no_profundia - 10 March 2019 04:38 PM

I was never able to reconcile these impulses. I am unsatisfied with both paths that I often see people following: either shutting their eyes to what our best science says is true or jettisoning religion and its truth claims entirely. So I would be curious to hear what direction your proposals might take.

As usual, very well written, no_pro.  However, regarding the above, you are welcome to speak for yourself, but speaking for myself, I have no difficulty reconciling science and religion because I do not feel a need to be part of something larger to give my life, and understanding of life, meaning.  To the contrary, it seems to me that the need for meaning is a cause of psychological strife.  Seeking something bigger than yourself to which you may belong in the desire that the bigger thing will give your life meaning sounds like desperation and depression to me.

Seeking meaning sounds like a waste of time for the short time we are here, as I am pretty sure a Mayfly, whose adult life span is 24-48 hours, gets along psychologically just fine beyond the meaning of reproduction.

Your interest in Buddhism may have a point - forget seeking meaning and enjoy what you have while you have it.  At least that’s what I get out of Taoism and the Japanese concept of ukiyo, “the floating world.”

 
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11 March 2019 20:30
 

As usual, very well written, no_pro.  However, regarding the above, you are welcome to speak for yourself, but speaking for myself, I have no difficulty reconciling science and religion because I do not feel a need to be part of something larger to give my life, and understanding of life, meaning.  To the contrary, it seems to me that the need for meaning is a cause of psychological strife.  Seeking something bigger than yourself to which you may belong in the desire that the bigger thing will give your life meaning sounds like desperation and depression to me.

Seeking meaning sounds like a waste of time for the short time we are here, as I am pretty sure a Mayfly, whose adult life span is 24-48 hours, gets along psychologically just fine beyond the meaning of reproduction.

Your interest in Buddhism may have a point - forget seeking meaning and enjoy what you have while you have it.  At least that’s what I get out of Taoism and the Japanese concept of ukiyo, “the floating world.”

You very well may be right. There is a quote from Krishnamurti that is something like “We only search for the meaning of life when we are unhappy, when we are happy we don’t need life to have a meaning” (I am sure I am not getting that quite right but I think that was the gist of it). I agree with that. Christian mystics like Meister Eckhart would also agree (life is without why).

And I have found this to be true in my own life. Depression runs in my family and I definitely have noticed my desire for “meaning” seems to increase when I am depressed.

And, I am also perfectly willing to admit that what I refer to as our “deepest religious impulses” may not be universal. I remember reading a while back about how some people have proposed that psychopathy may be an evolutionary adaptation. As long as psychopaths only make up a small percentage of the population this strategy can be successful. That seems quite possible to me and the lesson I took from it was, it is dangerous to universalize a single “human nature”. If evolutionary theory is correct we should expect variation in the population rather than a single human nature.

So, the religious impulses I am talking about may not be something that everyone feels and I have good evidence that they are not. I can only say that I feel them and have struggled with a conflict between those impulses and what my intellect believes is true about the world. I think what those impulses seek is something like what you are talking about: the ability to enjoy life while I have it. Perhaps meaning is the wrong word. I think depth might be a better word. I crave depth.

But, I think many people don’t really know what they want, and I may very well be one of them. It is like thinking you are hungry when you are really thirsty. Perhaps I will someday find that my religious impulses are satisfied by something that is not at all “transcendent” to the world. I actually hope so.

 
 
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11 March 2019 23:51
 

And sometimes meaning finds you, but you need to stop looking for it first.  So what if you stumble through life for a while without clear direction?  It is the story of my life, and every once in a while something comes along to give me direction and I go with it, at least until it runs its course.  My best memories and adventures are the result of poor planning and asking, “Where does that road go?” then following it.  I found that setting expectations works well for short term projects and plans, but for the long term project of my life, setting expectations tends to blind me to many of life’s adventures and joys. 

Or maybe I just got lucky on this go-around.

I think you are right about there not being a universal human nature, and what works for me may not work for you, and that is OK, because it doesn’t have to.

 
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12 March 2019 01:19
 

I am going to go out on a limb and propose that what people seek through what is popularly called meaning is a way of engaging with the world as they perceive it that satisfies their emotional needs. This is a very loose proposition, because I cannot make it any tighter without eliminating aspects that I don’t know about. Science, on the other hand, generally looks upon people’s emotional needs as irrelevant to the aspect of reality being studied, unless emotional needs are the aspect of reality being studied.

In a more general sense, but perhaps just as controversially, I propose that the attraction of religion is procedural knowledge, while the attraction of science is primarily declarative knowledge. Procedural knowledge is certainly dependent upon potential declarative knowledge if it is efficacious, but the declarative knowledge upon which procedural knowledge is based does not need to be expressed in declarative form for the procedural knowledge to be efficacious. Indeed there are many instances of the reasons (declarative knowledge) for why things work is largely incorrect, while the processes they attempt to explain (procedural knowledge) still work. I suggest it may be a characteristic of mythology in general, of which I count religion as a subset, to encode procedural knowledge with memorable but largely incorrect explanations, with the positively selective effect of enhancing the learning and retention of that procedural knowledge.

 
 
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12 March 2019 09:19
 
Poldano - 12 March 2019 01:19 AM

I am going to go out on a limb and propose that what people seek through what is popularly called meaning is a way of engaging with the world as they perceive it that satisfies their emotional needs. This is a very loose proposition, because I cannot make it any tighter without eliminating aspects that I don’t know about. Science, on the other hand, generally looks upon people’s emotional needs as irrelevant to the aspect of reality being studied, unless emotional needs are the aspect of reality being studied.

In a more general sense, but perhaps just as controversially, I propose that the attraction of religion is procedural knowledge, while the attraction of science is primarily declarative knowledge. Procedural knowledge is certainly dependent upon potential declarative knowledge if it is efficacious, but the declarative knowledge upon which procedural knowledge is based does not need to be expressed in declarative form for the procedural knowledge to be efficacious. Indeed there are many instances of the reasons (declarative knowledge) for why things work is largely incorrect, while the processes they attempt to explain (procedural knowledge) still work. I suggest it may be a characteristic of mythology in general, of which I count religion as a subset, to encode procedural knowledge with memorable but largely incorrect explanations, with the positively selective effect of enhancing the learning and retention of that procedural knowledge.

A slightly different way of looking at it, from Neal Stephenson’s novel Anathem, pp. 888 - 889:

In a ritual scene with several speakers, the narrator first describes a sermon delivered by a religious authority:

“He used the occasion to uncork one of his amazing, exasperating sermons, filled with wisdom and upsight and human truths, fettered to a cosmographical scheme that had been blown out of the water four thousand years ago.”

Responding to this, a more philosophically oriented speaker says:

“In his words I clearly see the traces left, thousands of years ago, when one of his forebears hit on an upsight and a way of expressing it that, for that moment, were true.  As when the parts of a clock tick into alignment, and a pin falls into a slot, and something happens: a gate swings open… and through it, a glimpse into the next cosmos.  …Those who were there when that gate opened, knew it for a real upsight, wrote it down, made it part of their religion – which is a way of saying that they did all that was in their power to pass it on to the ones they loved.”

 
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13 March 2019 01:25
 
burt - 12 March 2019 09:19 AM
Poldano - 12 March 2019 01:19 AM

I am going to go out on a limb and propose that what people seek through what is popularly called meaning is a way of engaging with the world as they perceive it that satisfies their emotional needs. This is a very loose proposition, because I cannot make it any tighter without eliminating aspects that I don’t know about. Science, on the other hand, generally looks upon people’s emotional needs as irrelevant to the aspect of reality being studied, unless emotional needs are the aspect of reality being studied.

In a more general sense, but perhaps just as controversially, I propose that the attraction of religion is procedural knowledge, while the attraction of science is primarily declarative knowledge. Procedural knowledge is certainly dependent upon potential declarative knowledge if it is efficacious, but the declarative knowledge upon which procedural knowledge is based does not need to be expressed in declarative form for the procedural knowledge to be efficacious. Indeed there are many instances of the reasons (declarative knowledge) for why things work is largely incorrect, while the processes they attempt to explain (procedural knowledge) still work. I suggest it may be a characteristic of mythology in general, of which I count religion as a subset, to encode procedural knowledge with memorable but largely incorrect explanations, with the positively selective effect of enhancing the learning and retention of that procedural knowledge.

A slightly different way of looking at it, from Neal Stephenson’s novel Anathem, pp. 888 - 889:

In a ritual scene with several speakers, the narrator first describes a sermon delivered by a religious authority:

“He used the occasion to uncork one of his amazing, exasperating sermons, filled with wisdom and upsight and human truths, fettered to a cosmographical scheme that had been blown out of the water four thousand years ago.”

Responding to this, a more philosophically oriented speaker says:

“In his words I clearly see the traces left, thousands of years ago, when one of his forebears hit on an upsight and a way of expressing it that, for that moment, were true.  As when the parts of a clock tick into alignment, and a pin falls into a slot, and something happens: a gate swings open… and through it, a glimpse into the next cosmos.  …Those who were there when that gate opened, knew it for a real upsight, wrote it down, made it part of their religion – which is a way of saying that they did all that was in their power to pass it on to the ones they loved.”

I recall that excerpt. My attitude is much like that of the philosophically oriented speaker.

How it relates to declarative and procedural knowledge is somewhat oblique. What I consider important for survival, etc., is procedural knowledge. Upsight (or insight, or an “aha experience”) may happen when a declarative assertion is found that succinctly ties together a set of procedural rules, or a set of previous declarative assertions that in turn tie together procedural rules. At the heart of this view is that there can be no declarative knowledge expressed without procedural rules to express about. A distracting side effect is that both declarative knowledge and its expression require procedural rules (e.g., language, memory, cognition) explicit to them, but those are not necessarily the procedural rules that inspired the upsight and its expression.

In words that you have used before, I think that all declarative knowledge consists of stories. The stories need not by literally true (whatever that means) or even correct to be useful.

[ Edited: 13 March 2019 01:30 by Poldano]
 
 
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13 March 2019 08:48
 
Poldano - 13 March 2019 01:25 AM
burt - 12 March 2019 09:19 AM
Poldano - 12 March 2019 01:19 AM

I am going to go out on a limb and propose that what people seek through what is popularly called meaning is a way of engaging with the world as they perceive it that satisfies their emotional needs. This is a very loose proposition, because I cannot make it any tighter without eliminating aspects that I don’t know about. Science, on the other hand, generally looks upon people’s emotional needs as irrelevant to the aspect of reality being studied, unless emotional needs are the aspect of reality being studied.

In a more general sense, but perhaps just as controversially, I propose that the attraction of religion is procedural knowledge, while the attraction of science is primarily declarative knowledge. Procedural knowledge is certainly dependent upon potential declarative knowledge if it is efficacious, but the declarative knowledge upon which procedural knowledge is based does not need to be expressed in declarative form for the procedural knowledge to be efficacious. Indeed there are many instances of the reasons (declarative knowledge) for why things work is largely incorrect, while the processes they attempt to explain (procedural knowledge) still work. I suggest it may be a characteristic of mythology in general, of which I count religion as a subset, to encode procedural knowledge with memorable but largely incorrect explanations, with the positively selective effect of enhancing the learning and retention of that procedural knowledge.

A slightly different way of looking at it, from Neal Stephenson’s novel Anathem, pp. 888 - 889:

In a ritual scene with several speakers, the narrator first describes a sermon delivered by a religious authority:

“He used the occasion to uncork one of his amazing, exasperating sermons, filled with wisdom and upsight and human truths, fettered to a cosmographical scheme that had been blown out of the water four thousand years ago.”

Responding to this, a more philosophically oriented speaker says:

“In his words I clearly see the traces left, thousands of years ago, when one of his forebears hit on an upsight and a way of expressing it that, for that moment, were true.  As when the parts of a clock tick into alignment, and a pin falls into a slot, and something happens: a gate swings open… and through it, a glimpse into the next cosmos.  …Those who were there when that gate opened, knew it for a real upsight, wrote it down, made it part of their religion – which is a way of saying that they did all that was in their power to pass it on to the ones they loved.”

I recall that excerpt. My attitude is much like that of the philosophically oriented speaker.

How it relates to declarative and procedural knowledge is somewhat oblique. What I consider important for survival, etc., is procedural knowledge. Upsight (or insight, or an “aha experience”) may happen when a declarative assertion is found that succinctly ties together a set of procedural rules, or a set of previous declarative assertions that in turn tie together procedural rules. At the heart of this view is that there can be no declarative knowledge expressed without procedural rules to express about. A distracting side effect is that both declarative knowledge and its expression require procedural rules (e.g., language, memory, cognition) explicit to them, but those are not necessarily the procedural rules that inspired the upsight and its expression.

In words that you have used before, I think that all declarative knowledge consists of stories. The stories need not by literally true (whatever that means) or even correct to be useful.

This seems to fit with a distinction I’ve tried to make between functional and factual truth values. A functional truth value doesn’t need to be factually true, it just has to produce a correct response under given circumstances. Your comment on declarative knowledge is very much in agreement with my brother’s view when we discuss such things. He’s a writer (commercial: he has a new book out, adventure fantasy, filled with declarative knowledge: B.L. Voorhees, Hollow Fortress, order online from Barnes & Noble or Amazon). He argues that people are made of words and the stories they tell. The blog “are selves cultural attractors” has a similar, although much more academically inclined. http://cognitionandculture.net/ I think that our cultural stories and such tell us who we are, how we relate to others, and what purposes we have. Of course, they also have to provide the procedural knowledge that allows everyday functioning in the world, but what’s psychologically important is the level that gives that functioning meaning and that is the wrapping of the procedural knowledge in stories and such.

 
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13 March 2019 21:16
 

I suggest it may be a characteristic of mythology in general, of which I count religion as a subset, to encode procedural knowledge with memorable but largely incorrect explanations, with the positively selective effect of enhancing the learning and retention of that procedural knowledge.

Can you give an example of the kind of procedural knowledge you are talking about?

I often think about the Christological debates in Christian theology (Jesus was only a man, he was purely spiritual, he was both body and spirit but the natures were totally separate, he was both body and spirit but the natures were somehow intertwined, etc.). I think about this example because I don’t believe in a personal God who has an intellect and makes decisions so I also don’t believe that God decided to send His son down to the world at some particular point in history. However, I don’t think the Christological debates are just non-sense like debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

I think there is something real at stake but it is difficult for me to say what it is. I am wondering if you think something like this - a set of declarative statements about the nature of Christ - can somehow be cashed out in terms of what you are calling procedural knowledge? I have a hard time imagining how holding one view of Christ’s nature would help us get around in the world in an everyday pragmatic sense but I can imagine that it has effects if we are talking about spiritual practices. If you think Christ’s natures were separate you might be inclined to engage in asceticism to deny your body in favor of your spirit while if you believe the natures are intertwined you would not have such a negative view of the body. Is this the kind of procedural knowledge you are talking about? Are the declarative statements about Christ’s nature just a round-about way of talking about how we should relate to our bodies?

And what happens when we realize that the declarative statements are not literally true? Imagine that we decide the Christological statements about the nature of Christ are not really about Christ but are rules or advice about the relationship we should have to ourselves and our bodies and what kinds of spiritual practices we should engage in, etc. Can they still function when we give up believing they are about something or that they are true? Can we just substitute procedural talk for declarative talk? Rather than taking a round-about path through debates about the nature of Christ can we just directly debate how we should live?

It feels like something is lost in such a case. People would be reluctant to have their declarative statements reduced to procedural statements I think. But why should that be? This is what I was trying to get at in my previous posts when I was talking about truth and reality. We could say that all of Christian theology is just an elaborate scheme for indirectly telling us how we should live but it feels deflating to hear that (and I am saying that from the perspective of a non-believer). If the symbols are just the husk for the procedural knowledge within why do we cling so tightly to the husk?

[ Edited: 13 March 2019 21:19 by no_profundia]
 
 
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14 March 2019 00:04
 
no_profundia - 13 March 2019 09:16 PM

I suggest it may be a characteristic of mythology in general, of which I count religion as a subset, to encode procedural knowledge with memorable but largely incorrect explanations, with the positively selective effect of enhancing the learning and retention of that procedural knowledge.

Can you give an example of the kind of procedural knowledge you are talking about?

My stock answer is the Golden Rule.

A less accessible answer is to treat every person you encounter as you would treat Jesus Christ, except for the worship part. I don’t think the historical Jesus, if he existed, ever wanted to be worshiped.

I’m sure more detail is possible, but I’m not about to write another Talmud.

no_profundia - 13 March 2019 09:16 PM

I often think about the Christological debates in Christian theology (Jesus was only a man, he was purely spiritual, he was both body and spirit but the natures were totally separate, he was both body and spirit but the natures were somehow intertwined, etc.). I think about this example because I don’t believe in a personal God who has an intellect and makes decisions so I also don’t believe that God decided to send His son down to the world at some particular point in history. However, I don’t think the Christological debates are just non-sense like debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

I think there is something real at stake but it is difficult for me to say what it is. I am wondering if you think something like this - a set of declarative statements about the nature of Christ - can somehow be cashed out in terms of what you are calling procedural knowledge? I have a hard time imagining how holding one view of Christ’s nature would help us get around in the world in an everyday pragmatic sense but I can imagine that it has effects if we are talking about spiritual practices. If you think Christ’s natures were separate you might be inclined to engage in asceticism to deny your body in favor of your spirit while if you believe the natures are intertwined you would not have such a negative view of the body. Is this the kind of procedural knowledge you are talking about? Are the declarative statements about Christ’s nature just a round-about way of talking about how we should relate to our bodies?

I think the Christological debates are residues of the Jewish Jesus cult meeting Greek philosophy, particularly Neoplatonism. The latter has a lot of body-denying stuff in it, and was very influential on early Christianity. I basically ignore it as informing about any procedural basis for Christianity. However, it might bear on it via the notion that anything material is evil, another strain of thought in the Zeitgeist of the Roman Empire and its environs at the time. I don’t know if you have already considered these potential connections; if you already have, I may have some more information (or misinformation) to pass on.

no_profundia - 13 March 2019 09:16 PM

And what happens when we realize that the declarative statements are not literally true? Imagine that we decide the Christological statements about the nature of Christ are not really about Christ but are rules or advice about the relationship we should have to ourselves and our bodies and what kinds of spiritual practices we should engage in, etc. Can they still function when we give up believing they are about something or that they are true? Can we just substitute procedural talk for declarative talk? Rather than taking a round-about path through debates about the nature of Christ can we just directly debate how we should live?

It feels like something is lost in such a case. People would be reluctant to have their declarative statements reduced to procedural statements I think. But why should that be? This is what I was trying to get at in my previous posts when I was talking about truth and reality. We could say that all of Christian theology is just an elaborate scheme for indirectly telling us how we should live but it feels deflating to hear that (and I am saying that from the perspective of a non-believer). If the symbols are just the husk for the procedural knowledge within why do we cling so tightly to the husk?

Bingo.

I think the husk is the memory-enhancing part. The procedures themselves can be forgotten, especially across generations, but because of the vividness of the declarative imagery, they can easily be recalled or reinvented.

The husk is also more succinct than the full set of procedures, some of which may not even be expressible or comprehensible until some relevant triggering experience happens to people. I think of some aspects of the husk as a procedure-generation tool. One aspect that I am currently interested in is the ontological extent of personhood (which is not the same as personality). Does it extend only as deeply as our neural activity, or is there more to it? Subjectively, we tend to think of our personhoods as extending through every aspect of reality, while the most objective science we have can only measure any effects related to it to the level of molecules, or perhaps atoms in some cases. Christianity, you may have observed, makes a big deal about personhood, particular the triple personhoods of God. What does that implicitly say about the nature and status of ourselves as persons?

[ Edited: 19 March 2019 03:30 by Poldano]
 
 
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14 March 2019 00:13
 
burt - 13 March 2019 08:48 AM

...

This seems to fit with a distinction I’ve tried to make between functional and factual truth values. A functional truth value doesn’t need to be factually true, it just has to produce a correct response under given circumstances. Your comment on declarative knowledge is very much in agreement with my brother’s view when we discuss such things. He’s a writer (commercial: he has a new book out, adventure fantasy, filled with declarative knowledge: B.L. Voorhees, Hollow Fortress, order online from Barnes & Noble or Amazon). He argues that people are made of words and the stories they tell. The blog “are selves cultural attractors” has a similar, although much more academically inclined. http://cognitionandculture.net/ I think that our cultural stories and such tell us who we are, how we relate to others, and what purposes we have. Of course, they also have to provide the procedural knowledge that allows everyday functioning in the world, but what’s psychologically important is the level that gives that functioning meaning and that is the wrapping of the procedural knowledge in stories and such.

I’m fairly sure that the two formulations are closely related. Your formulation is probably more acceptable to the mainstream, but collides with mainstream logic where it makes a big mess. I was trying to avoid that collision by stating that the truth value of assertions doesn’t matter as much as the utility of the procedural knowledge derived from those assertions. A fairly trivial example is that it doesn’t matter if the value of PI is 3.14159 or 3.1416 if you can only measure to five significant digits.

 

 
 
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15 March 2019 09:00
 
no_profundia - 10 March 2019 04:38 PM

Given the opening three paragraphs, I developed high hopes for the article.  Alas, they were disappointed.  I found it disjointed and trivially observational, only coming to an enduring point towards the end.

While I haven’t really worked out for myself how to differentiate the truth claims of religion from the truth claims of science, much less from those of everyday life, I am pretty sure Harris’ reduction of religious belief to propositional truth claims about the reality of the world is the optimally dumb approach to religion (the article is not so harsh, but it does express well his general error).  For, however religious belief is distinguishable from scientific belief, and otherwise from everyday truth claims, clearly it addresses the ideal possibilities of human existence, i.e. those bearing more on meaning than fact—something the piece indicates toward the end, without developing, in my opinion.  Anyway, this happens to be the topic for a book or long-form essay I’ve mulled over for some time, to wit: rehabilitating religious belief in light of its unsustainable and now counterproductive emphasis on the supernatural.  Since it obviously strikes a chord in the overwhelming majority of people, and since it obviously answers a real need in even the most intelligent and rational among us, one can ask: how is religious belief to find a place in our moral, societal, and spiritual autonomy, once we have weaned ourselves from the foolish (though psychologically intelligible) recourse to supernatural sanction and authority?  I’ve worked with the title “The Beginning of Faith,” which as a theme would prepare religious belief for its continuance, not call for its abolition; so the contrary title to Harris and his optimally dumb treatment is intentional.

In any case, self-centeredly, I suppose, I hoped Mr. Crane was going to address that question, as I think it is the one any sympathetic atheist is compelled to ask.  As someone so unconcerned with God to even declare “atheism,” it seems to follow from the New Atheists’ critique.

This sounds like an interesting project. I would be curious to hear more about how you might go about answering this question: “how is religious belief to find a place in our moral, societal, and spiritual autonomy, once we have weaned ourselves from the foolish (though psychologically intelligible) recourse to supernatural sanction and authority?”

I studied philosophy in school and one of my primary goals was to reconcile what I took to be a fracture in our modern society between what our intellects must affirm and our deepest religious impulses. In the Middle Ages, for example, the best science (Aristotelian science) and our deepest religious impulses were largely consonant with each other (though this required a great deal of intellectual work and synthesis to achieve).

Today it seems that what our intellects are inclined to affirm is often in conflict with the “real need” that religion fulfills and that you are pointing to in your post. I never succeeded in my task of creating a grand synthesis similar to the Thomistic synthesis of the Middle Ages (I certainly lack the abilities for that) but I reached a couple of conclusions (or it might be better to call them stumbling blocks or dilemmas).

First, while I partially agree with the author of this article that religion cannot be reduced to propositional statements - it is an existential way of being in the world, relating to the world, and (potentially) relating to something beyond the world - I do not think religion can fulfill those functions without being grounded in truth. I don’t think we can live just in meaning by saying something like “this belief gives meaning to my life without making any truth claims about the nature of reality.” I don’t think we will ever feel something is truly meaningful if we believe it is merely a projection or creation of our own imaginations. I think we need to feel it is grounded in reality, and we don’t just need to feel this, but our intellects need to assent to it. Otherwise, we will still be split, fulfilling our emotional needs by living in an imaginary world while fulfilling our intellects by denying our religious impulses.

Second, and this really turned into the stumbling block for me, I am not sure if what I will call here a purely secular “spirituality” will ever satisfy our deepest religious impulses. I am a big fan of Buddhism in some ways but certain strands of Buddhism tend to reduce Buddhism to relaxation techniques, or techniques for working with our emotions to make our life more peaceful, etc. which is all to the good, but I am not sure if this will ultimately satisfy us without some deeper ontological claim about a reality that “transcends”, in some sense, our everyday quotidian reality. We want a greater reality for lack of a better term and we want the affirmation of that greater reality to be true. I thought for a while that a secular form of Buddhism might be the answer for me but these days I am not so sure.

I was never able to reconcile these impulses. I am unsatisfied with both paths that I often see people following: either shutting their eyes to what our best science says is true or jettisoning religion and its truth claims entirely. So I would be curious to hear what direction your proposals might take.

I think your two conclusions go directly to the heart of the matter.  I will attempt to answer the question you ask by focusing on both.

Regarding your first point—that though not propositional statements, religious claims still must speak to the truth—I agree.  They must.  But they speak, I think, to moral truth, which is quite different than propositional truth claims about reality (I realize Harris things moral truth claims are propositional claims about reality, but he is wrong).  As I see it, the dominant religions are now both monotheistic and moralistic, with the exception of India, which is polytheistic and moralistic.  And where religions are not “theistic” per se—Buddhism and Taoism—they are still moralistic, so long as “morals” is broadened to consider not just rules about right and wrong behavior but equally conduct facilitating the good life.  So religions are about the good; they are about morals; and they have done, I think, themselves a disservice by casting these concerns into propositional truth claims about reality—to wit, about a supernatural reality, not a natural one.  In other words, the question for me is: how does one separate the motive for religion—the genuine, necessary motive—from its antecedent justification of moral truth claims in propositions about a supernatural reality, while at the same time recasting these moral aspirations in terms of ideal human possibilities?  So the question becomes: what is moral truth, and how does religion relate to it?

I realize this in a sense just kicks the can down the road, but it changes the focus from “truths” that can’t but be either wrong or in principle unknowable—truth claims about supernatural reality—to “truths” that can be both right or wrong and knowable—truth claims about morality.  This leaves the additional point of showing that at their heart, religions are about morality, i.e. about good community—something I think even de-supernaturalized religionists will acknowledge.  So there is some potential common ground with secularists and religionists there.

Regarding your second point—that secular attempts at spirituality won’t satisfy the specifically religious motive for a “greater reality”—again, I agree: they won’t.  In my opinion Harris’ “spirituality” drains it of its, well, spirituality, as well as of moral—i.e. communal—significance.  In effect what Harris proposes is interesting and fruitful for exploring a private reality, but it hardly satisfies the urge for a transcendent reality.  Rather, as advocates of Buddhism et al. acknowledge, meditation techniques deal with transcendental, not transcendent, reality.  This is, I agree, fine as far as it does, but it does not get us to the aspirational qualities that animate our most authentic religious impulses.

For now, I would answer your question this way: to satisfy its impulses for a ‘transcendent’ or ‘greater’ reality, religion must focus on moral progress, and the moral truth that is the means to it.  Instead of finding solace in the antecedent justification of supernatural sanction for existing moral precepts, the religious life properly understood strives for “ideal” moral precepts that have not yet been realized, or that have been realized only imperfectly.  Some of these we know, and recognize they are not well-enough implemented.  But others we don’t, and there is always the possibility of their discovery.  I would say that religious faith properly is the openness to this possibility of discovery, not just in morals (where it primarily takes place), but also in science.  Where religious advocates have erred so far is in inverting the “reality” of this discovery from a transcendency ‘ahead’ of us as yet to be realized into a supernatural reality ‘behind’ us that both justifies and insures success in the search.  So I’m advocating a faith that’s prospective, not retrospective, one that looks ahead for possibilities that can only be “ideal” because there are no yet known, not belief in actualities that are real in some supernatural sense.  That, so far, is the best form my proposals can take.

 

 
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15 March 2019 09:22
 
Poldano - 14 March 2019 12:04 AM

A less accessible answer is to treat every person you encounter as you would treat Jesus Christ, except for the worship part. I don’t think the historical Jesus, if he existed, ever wanted to be worshiped.

Time for an entertainment break:

Once three Canadians, an Albertan, a Quebecois, and a Newfoundlander (Newfie) were drinking in a pub. After a few beers the Albertan looked over at another guy seated alone at a table, seemingly lost in distraction. “Hey” he said to his buddies, “That guy looks like Jesus Christ.” The all agreed this was so and the Albertan got up, went over to the guys table, and asked: “Are you Jesus Christ?” The guy looked up and said “Yes, I am.” “Wow” the Albertan exclaimed, “Let me buy you a beer.” And he did. Jesus thanked him and shook his hand. BING!!!!!!!! The Albertan staggered back to his table and said “When he shook my hand, that old injury I got working on the oil rigs was cured!” Then the Quebecois fellow got up and walked over to see Jesus. “Hi, Jesus” he said, “Let me buy you a beer.” And he did. Jesus thanked him and shook his hand. BING!!!!!!! The Quebecois staggered back to his table and said “When he shook my hand I was cured of my smoking habit and cough.” So now the Newfie walked over and said “Hey, Jesus, let me buy you a beer.” And he did. Jesus thanked him and reached out to shake his hand. The Newfie backed quickly away and said “But don’t you go touching me, I’m on workman’s comp.”

 
burt
 
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burt
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15 March 2019 09:39
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 15 March 2019 09:00 AM
no_profundia - 10 March 2019 04:38 PM

Given the opening three paragraphs, I developed high hopes for the article.  Alas, they were disappointed.  I found it disjointed and trivially observational, only coming to an enduring point towards the end.

While I haven’t really worked out for myself how to differentiate the truth claims of religion from the truth claims of science, much less from those of everyday life, I am pretty sure Harris’ reduction of religious belief to propositional truth claims about the reality of the world is the optimally dumb approach to religion (the article is not so harsh, but it does express well his general error).  For, however religious belief is distinguishable from scientific belief, and otherwise from everyday truth claims, clearly it addresses the ideal possibilities of human existence, i.e. those bearing more on meaning than fact—something the piece indicates toward the end, without developing, in my opinion.  Anyway, this happens to be the topic for a book or long-form essay I’ve mulled over for some time, to wit: rehabilitating religious belief in light of its unsustainable and now counterproductive emphasis on the supernatural.  Since it obviously strikes a chord in the overwhelming majority of people, and since it obviously answers a real need in even the most intelligent and rational among us, one can ask: how is religious belief to find a place in our moral, societal, and spiritual autonomy, once we have weaned ourselves from the foolish (though psychologically intelligible) recourse to supernatural sanction and authority?  I’ve worked with the title “The Beginning of Faith,” which as a theme would prepare religious belief for its continuance, not call for its abolition; so the contrary title to Harris and his optimally dumb treatment is intentional.

In any case, self-centeredly, I suppose, I hoped Mr. Crane was going to address that question, as I think it is the one any sympathetic atheist is compelled to ask.  As someone so unconcerned with God to even declare “atheism,” it seems to follow from the New Atheists’ critique.

This sounds like an interesting project. I would be curious to hear more about how you might go about answering this question: “how is religious belief to find a place in our moral, societal, and spiritual autonomy, once we have weaned ourselves from the foolish (though psychologically intelligible) recourse to supernatural sanction and authority?”

I studied philosophy in school and one of my primary goals was to reconcile what I took to be a fracture in our modern society between what our intellects must affirm and our deepest religious impulses. In the Middle Ages, for example, the best science (Aristotelian science) and our deepest religious impulses were largely consonant with each other (though this required a great deal of intellectual work and synthesis to achieve).

Today it seems that what our intellects are inclined to affirm is often in conflict with the “real need” that religion fulfills and that you are pointing to in your post. I never succeeded in my task of creating a grand synthesis similar to the Thomistic synthesis of the Middle Ages (I certainly lack the abilities for that) but I reached a couple of conclusions (or it might be better to call them stumbling blocks or dilemmas).

First, while I partially agree with the author of this article that religion cannot be reduced to propositional statements - it is an existential way of being in the world, relating to the world, and (potentially) relating to something beyond the world - I do not think religion can fulfill those functions without being grounded in truth. I don’t think we can live just in meaning by saying something like “this belief gives meaning to my life without making any truth claims about the nature of reality.” I don’t think we will ever feel something is truly meaningful if we believe it is merely a projection or creation of our own imaginations. I think we need to feel it is grounded in reality, and we don’t just need to feel this, but our intellects need to assent to it. Otherwise, we will still be split, fulfilling our emotional needs by living in an imaginary world while fulfilling our intellects by denying our religious impulses.

Second, and this really turned into the stumbling block for me, I am not sure if what I will call here a purely secular “spirituality” will ever satisfy our deepest religious impulses. I am a big fan of Buddhism in some ways but certain strands of Buddhism tend to reduce Buddhism to relaxation techniques, or techniques for working with our emotions to make our life more peaceful, etc. which is all to the good, but I am not sure if this will ultimately satisfy us without some deeper ontological claim about a reality that “transcends”, in some sense, our everyday quotidian reality. We want a greater reality for lack of a better term and we want the affirmation of that greater reality to be true. I thought for a while that a secular form of Buddhism might be the answer for me but these days I am not so sure.

I was never able to reconcile these impulses. I am unsatisfied with both paths that I often see people following: either shutting their eyes to what our best science says is true or jettisoning religion and its truth claims entirely. So I would be curious to hear what direction your proposals might take.

I think your two conclusions go directly to the heart of the matter.  I will attempt to answer the question you ask by focusing on both.

Regarding your first point—that though not propositional statements, religious claims still must speak to the truth—I agree.  They must.  But they speak, I think, to moral truth, which is quite different than propositional truth claims about reality (I realize Harris things moral truth claims are propositional claims about reality, but he is wrong).  As I see it, the dominant religions are now both monotheistic and moralistic, with the exception of India, which is polytheistic and moralistic.  And where religions are not “theistic” per se—Buddhism and Taoism—they are still moralistic, so long as “morals” is broadened to consider not just rules about right and wrong behavior but equally conduct facilitating the good life.  So religions are about the good; they are about morals; and they have done, I think, themselves a disservice by casting these concerns into propositional truth claims about reality—to wit, about a supernatural reality, not a natural one.  In other words, the question for me is: how does one separate the motive for religion—the genuine, necessary motive—from its antecedent justification of moral truth claims in propositions about a supernatural reality, while at the same time recasting these moral aspirations in terms of ideal human possibilities?  So the question becomes: what is moral truth, and how does religion relate to it?

I realize this in a sense just kicks the can down the road, but it changes the focus from “truths” that can’t but be either wrong or in principle unknowable—truth claims about supernatural reality—to “truths” that can be both right or wrong and knowable—truth claims about morality.  This leaves the additional point of showing that at their heart, religions are about morality, i.e. about good community—something I think even de-supernaturalized religionists will acknowledge.  So there is some potential common ground with secularists and religionists there.

Regarding your second point—that secular attempts at spirituality won’t satisfy the specifically religious motive for a “greater reality”—again, I agree: they won’t.  In my opinion Harris’ “spirituality” drains it of its, well, spirituality, as well as of moral—i.e. communal—significance.  In effect what Harris proposes is interesting and fruitful for exploring a private reality, but it hardly satisfies the urge for a transcendent reality.  Rather, as advocates of Buddhism et al. acknowledge, meditation techniques deal with transcendental, not transcendent, reality.  This is, I agree, fine as far as it does, but it does not get us to the aspirational qualities that animate our most authentic religious impulses.

For now, I would answer your question this way: to satisfy its impulses for a ‘transcendent’ or ‘greater’ reality, religion must focus on moral progress, and the moral truth that is the means to it.  Instead of finding solace in the antecedent justification of supernatural sanction for existing moral precepts, the religious life properly understood strives for “ideal” moral precepts that have not yet been realized, or that have been realized only imperfectly.  Some of these we know, and recognize they are not well-enough implemented.  But others we don’t, and there is always the possibility of their discovery.  I would say that religious faith properly is the openness to this possibility of discovery, not just in morals (where it primarily takes place), but also in science.  Where religious advocates have erred so far is in inverting the “reality” of this discovery from a transcendency ‘ahead’ of us as yet to be realized into a supernatural reality ‘behind’ us that both justifies and insures success in the search.  So I’m advocating a faith that’s prospective, not retrospective, one that looks ahead for possibilities that can only be “ideal” because there are no yet known, not belief in actualities that are real in some supernatural sense.  That, so far, is the best form my proposals can take.

This relates to what you’re saying: https://oxford.academia.edu/OliverScottCurry. Basically (as in another thread) they are identifying morality with social practices aimed at promoting cooperation. I think that at one level this makes lots of sense, but also that as you say about Harris, it misses the transcendency. I see human evolution as a sort of bootstrap process where we develop our cultural and moral ideas as a means of constructing ourselves: who we are, how we relate, and what it all means. It’s the last of those that gets tricky when meaning gets extended beyond everyday and group survival. Then it begins to tie in to tradition (with ties to the past) and projection from this into a mystical (i.e., non-physical) future through myth, religion, and so on that is expressive of current levels of understanding. I think your “prospective faith” fits the bill quite well, and connects to the Socratic idea of “I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s ‘a path with heart’ so I’ll accept it provisionally.”

The Potter casts our fate upon the breeze,
Leaves it up to us to find the keys.
There’s dust on the wheel
From what once was real
As present potters throw new pots to please.

 
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